Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Confucian Scholar

Nukina Kaioku (1778-1863)
was a Confucian scholar
who lived in Japan.

Which meant that he was destined
to be a teacher instead of a high official.

And apparently
these screens were used
in his school
to exemplify higher learning

(the text are poems by Li Bo and Su Xiang)

Until I saw the Bamboo Forest
these were my favorite screens in the soon-to-close exhibit
at the Art Institute.

But, it's not really fair to compare them.

In the Bamboo Forest, every mark contributes to a spatial illusion.

But the only space on these screens
is that which surrounds each separate character.

They may be wonderfully arranged on the page
(they are)
but it's still just a collection of (wonderful) details

It's like the difference between a symphony
and a sequence of jazz improvisations.

or maybe "wonderful"
is not a strong enough word?

The fat and the thin of it.

It's all too exciting.

The characters are Chinese,
but can't you hear the Japanese accent?

(i.e.-- a flair for elegant drama)

If you wanted to learn Chinese culture in Japan,

wouldn't you want to study with this man?

at least,

you would have fun.

Monday, September 21, 2009

When is paint more than paint?

Ben Tinsley "Furniture Store on Whyte"

(an unpublished review for New City)

McCormick Gallery “Dirty Dozen” through Oct. 24

We can all admire fine craftsmanship – but that’s the first thing that comes to mind when standing before most of the paintings and sculptures in this survey of 12 contemporary artists at the McCormick Gallery. And shouldn’t painting demand attention to something more important? As Ben Tinsley does in “Furniture Store on Whyte”, a vignette of urban life that is “fixed in an artifice of eternity” (to quote Edward Snow regarding Vermeer). It’s half boarded up and definitely out of business, but unlike those melancholy Hopper scenes of New York, this abandoned little Chicago storefront sings with joy. Every detail is perfectly drawn and measured, especially the calligraphic graffiti that seems to have been applied by a wandering poet rather than gangbanger.

(note: Here's the painting of his I found at Art Chicago last May)

John Santoro

Also exceptional in this exhibit are the two suburban cityscapes by John Santoro. No meticulously painted brickwork here – instead, these are meticulous paintings of paint. But they also present places the artist likes to live (his yard, front and back), rather unkempt, but no less timeless than the “10,000 years” mentioned in the titles he gave them. All the other abstract paintings in this exhibit just seem to be about paint.

My fellow Academicians

Larry Paulsen

(an unpublished review for the New City)

Palette and Chisel Academy, through September 27

With it’s 50 hours/week of figure model sessions, the Palette and Chisel Academy is mostly about traditional European figure drawing, and nobody there does it better than Lawrence Paulsen, who seems to be time traveling back to the Royal Academy of Sir Joshua Reynolds, as he executes the deftly drawn contour line around the hips of a zoftig model. His portrait paintings also seem to date from that era, though they are much more subdued, not as powerful, and sometimes a bit ambivalent about the person being presented. Would that make him a Post-Modernist?

Jim Hajicek

The Palette and Chisel is also a center for plain air painters, and James Hajicek is one its best, as he makes so many happy simplifications in that brief period of time in which an on-site painting can be done. He also does impressionistic oil figure sketches in that manner of Nicolai Fechin which has been so popular at the P&C ever since Richard Schmid was President in the 1980’s. This style can show excitement, but works all too well as a metaphor for modern life, with a hectic central figure that seems cut and pasted onto a neglected background.

(more pictures can be found here )

Saturday, September 12, 2009



Am I the only one in the world
who can look at Bijin-ga
(pictures of beautiful women)
day after day after day?

Why isn't there a market
for contemporary paintings or prints
on this subject?

(other than on the calendars
you find in auto repair shops)

Above is my all-time favorite,
(unless we include the Europeans)
but happily,
the genre did not die
in 19th Century Japan

Ito Shinsui (1898-1972)

Here's an artist
currently featured
in the Buckingham Print Gallery
at the Art Institute

How is that she feels more modern?
Is it that she's more in-your-face?

And a little less confidant about herself?

Ito Shinsui

And not quite so delicate

Ito Shinsui

This early piece is not in the Art Institute,

and it also feels
the most removed from
the Floating World
and more like a scene
of ordinary life

Ito Shinsui

This girl
feels more like a daughter
than a singsong girl.

Ito's career began at the tender age of 17,
when he engaged by a young art entrepreneur, Watanabe Shozaburo,
to design prints for the export market.

So he work was made for European and American collectors
rather than Japanese.

Would that make his work inauthentic ?
(as it would if he were an African sculptor)

Kiyokata Kaburagi (鏑木清方) 1878 –1972)

And she feels more like a wife.

This piece is
by Ito's teacher

and here's another.

More dynamic,
but not as personal
as his student

Hashiguchi Goyo (1880-1921)

And how are these girls different?

Hashiguchi Goyô

They seem more like pictures
and less like personalities.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Kishi Ganku : Bamboo Forest

Kishi Ganku (1749-1838)

Bamboo, 1829

Slowly, but surely
I'm putting up images of the Japanese screen exhibit
running at the Art Institute until the end of this month.

And it occurred to me yesterday,
during my weekly visit,
that this screen is my favorite.

however much I like the others,
they all look a little weak
after spending some time in this bamboo forest.

And what especially surprised me,

is that the artist
was 80 years old
when he painted
these 12 screens.

he is most renowned for his tigers,
but from the images I've seen online
they're not quite up to the
tigers painted by Andy Chan of Chicago

Can you imagine having these screens
serve as a wall in your living room?

I would never leave the house.